Today I mourn the end of the book of Judges in my daily reading. I really had forgotten the adventure, the crazy characters, and the mightiness of God working through leaders during this time in biblical history. Reading it over the past month I found page turners in the stories of a lefty assassin, an obese king, a gang leader who becomes a mighty warrior, virgins roaming in the mountains, a pronunciation test, and an angry woman with a nail.
However, it was at the conclusion of the book that I stumbled upon a story I have long forgotten. The story of being whipped. By that I don’t mean a physical strap used to beat someone, though the Israelties were getting their tails kicked on the battlefield.
Its the story of a people listening for direction from God and getting it. However, in their obedience, they suffered some major casualties. Circumstancially, they got whipped even as they prayed, wept, and followed God. I sometimes find myself here when I am following hard after Christ, but everything is not turning out the way I thought it would.
Here is what the text of Judges 20 says about their first inquiry in battle: “Before the battle the Israelites went to Bethel and asked God, ‘Which tribe should go first to attack the people of Benjamin?’ The Lord answered, ‘Judah is to go first.’ So the Israelites left early the next morning and camped near Gibeah. Then they advanced toward Gibeah to attack the men of Benjamin. But Benjamin’s warriors, who were defending the town, came out and killed 22,000 Israelites on the battlefield that day.”
They got whipped. Of course this caused them to question God about their next steps. Should they give up or stay the course and keep fighting? I can relate. When I’ve prayed for direction, heard God’s voice, and then taken bold action in faith, bad outcomes perplex me. My thoughts go something like this, “Why aren’t things turning out the way I’d expected? Why am I suffering huge losses when you promised me victory?”
This didn’t happen only once to Israel. The story unfolds like this, “But the Israelites encouraged each other and took their positions again at the same place they had fought the previous day. For they had gone up to Bethel and wept in the presence of the Lord until evening. They had asked the Lord, ‘Should we fight against our relatives from Benjamin again?’ And the Lord had said, ‘Go out and fight against them.’ So the next day they went out again to fight against the men of Benjamin, but the men of Benjamin killed another 18,000 Israelites, all of whom were experienced with the sword.”
Yikes. The body count is now at 43,000! God promised them victory and they went out in faith even after getting whipped the first day. Yet again, they experienced intense defeat – and by their own blood relatives. Have you ever felt that way? The ones who are supposed to love us most often deal the deepest wounds. When this type of thing happens in my life, I question whether I heard God correctly and often give up. When we do this, we miss the great wins God has in store. His timing is almost always not mine. When I am in a season of waiting or feeling the weight of casualities when I expected victory, I am prone to lose heart.
The Israelites were broken hearted too. However, they knew where to go with their doubts and bleeding souls. “Then all the Israelites went up to Bethel and wept in the presence of the Lord and fasted until evening. They also brought burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord. The Israelites went up seeking direction from the Lord. (In those days the Ark of the Covenant of God was in Bethel, and Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron was the priest.) The Israelites asked the Lord, ‘Should we fight against our relatives from Benjamin again, or should we stop?’ The Lord said, ‘Go! Tomorrow I will hand them over to you.'”
Oh they cried their eyes out like I often do when I am discouraged, frustrated, and can’t make sense of God’s plan. But in the midst of their fears, they approached God again and continued to believe God’s promise even when their circumstances cried foul.
This time, God gave them a mighty victory. They only lost 30 men compared to Benjamin’s 25,000. Judges 20:24-48 gives a detailed account of how the Israelites divided their armies and used Benjamin’s pride to their advantage to win.
As I finished the chapter I couldn’t help but see God’s clear message:
- Come to Me and listen.
- Take bold steps of faith according to what you hear from Me.
- Keep coming back to Me when you feel whipped and life doesn’t make sense.
- Persevere in believing Me even when all seems lost.
- Celebrate the victory in My perfect timing.
He is so good and so worthy of our trust. Even when I feel whipped by life, I know ultimate victory is on the way.